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tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  January 25, 2018 9:00pm-10:00pm PST

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that. >> the president of the united states who will shortly givbegi his business day in davos england before heading back. that is our show for this thursday. thank you being with us. good night from nbc news headquarters here in new york. thanks for joining us this hour. i did have a perfectly good little show planned for tonight. i'll act it out with puppets, we're like suesan and the dog, they can tell me whether it's good. and we can never make air because kaboom again. again. this time, it's the new york
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times, michael schmidt. headline, trump ordered mueller fired. now, note the past tense there. this is not the president ordering the firing of special counsel robert mueller tonight. this is a report tonight from the "times" that says the president tried to fire him this past summer. went so far as ordering it, but it didn't happen. essentially, the glitch appears to have been that the president was not interested in doing the firing himself. he told the white house counsel to do it for him. the white house counsel said no and that stopped it. that's the rest of the headline. trump ordered mueller fired but backed off when white house counsel threatened to quit. the sourcing here is four people, four people told of the matter so here is how they start. according to four people told of the matter last june president trump ordered the firing of mueller. the special counsel overseeing the russia investigation. the president ultimately backed down, though, after the white house counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. this west wing confrontation marks the first time mr. trump
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is known to have fired -- excuse me, the first time mr. trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel, which makes me think were there other times he tried and failed to fire the special counsel? this confrontation marks the first time he was known to have fired the special counsel. at this time you're asking yourself, okay, the president is being investigated for obstruction of justice by robert mueller, who he didn't succeed in firing. does robert mueller know about this incident when the president tried but didn't succeed in firing him? does robert mueller know about this episode? according to the "times," yes. mr. mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and senior officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice. remarkably, the "times" has
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details what grounds, what premise the president was going to cite for firing robert mueller. now, in terms of the timing, they say this happened in june. robert mueller was appointed in may. this is the month after mueller was hired and the president was reportedly going to make a case that mueller had to be fired because he had conflicts of interest, conflicts of interest that were so serious, he was disqualified from doing this job. now, i have to tell you from a distance, just strategically, that's a terrible move. you're president of the united states and being investigated by special counsel to look into the russia thing, it is a terrible strategy to fire that special counsel on the basis of him having personal conflicts of interest. partly because those conflicts of interest need to be a really big deal to convince anybody that's really why you want to fire him, but even if you can persuade people, those conflicts of interest are a really big deal and that's why you want to fire the special counsel, then what?
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if you've come up with an argument there are personal things about this one particular man that require him to be fired from that job, that disqualify him from that job, all you're doing is setting up the justice department to replace him with a different person, to appoint a different special counsel who doesn't have the same conflicts of interest but does have the same powers, the same team and access to all the same evidence that mueller had. it's a bad move to pick personal conflicts of interest for the means or the premise you're going to use for firing a special counsel, but that is apparently what the president tried to do and the "times" has details as to how he was going to do it. quote, amid the first wave of reports mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation. one, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at the trump
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national golf club in virginia had prompted mr. mueller, fbi director at the time to resign his membership. the whole plot is about a disgruntled former golfer who didn't like his greens fees and held on to the grudge for years. that was claim one. claim two, the president also said mueller could not be impartial because he worked for the law firm that previously represented the president's son-in-law, jared kushner. that would be the law firm wilmer hale. finally, the president said mueller had been interviewed to return as the fbi director a day before he was appointed special counsel in may. which tells you that president trump thought he was imminently qualified to interview for being fbi director, which kind of undercuts all the other ones. why any of those would be reason enough to fire a special counsel, i don't know why the president would think that or if somebody advised him this was going to work.
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but according to the "times" tonight, those were going to be the president's arguments and then you get to the drama. and i don't want to overstate this too much but to be honest there have been a lot of stories that have broken over the past week or two that cast white house counsel don mcgahn as the super hero saving the republic. this is another story where don mcgahn is the only man standing between america and the obis. after receiving the order to fire robert mueller, the white house counsel don mcgahn refused to ask the justice department to dismiss the special counsel saying he would quit instead. mcgahn disagreed and told senior white house officials firing mueller would have a catastrophic effect on the presidency and insight more questions about whether the white house was trying to
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obstruct the russia investigation. mcgahn also told white house officials that trump wouldn't follow through on the dismissal on his own. the president then backed off. so this is amazing stuff from the "new york times" tonight. the story is that the president concocted a detailed but weak case for firing robert mueller the month after mueller was appointed special counsel june of last year and he would say he had personal conflicts of interest on the basis of some not particularly strong claims about mueller as a golfer and mueller as somebody who they considered to come back to run the fbi. so having concocted this case about mueller's supposed conflicts of interest, the president then ordered, i mean, the word in the piece was ordered, the president ordered the white house counsel don mcgahn, fire him. call the justice department and have them dismiss robert mueller. now, in the real world,
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presumably, what that would have meant would be don mcgahn calling up the justice department, specifically speaking to the deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. you don't talk to the attorney general because he's recused of everything having to do with the russia investigation. that's how we got mueller in the first place. instead, he would have to call the deputy attorney general, hi, rod, it's don up at the white house, i got to tell you, you got to fire bob mueller. he would tell rod rosenstein to fire robert mueller. then, presumably, rod rosenstein would refuse to do so. rod rosenstein said if he was ordered to fire robert mueller for anything other than good cause, he would refuse to do so. so in the real world, if this had really happened, mcgahn would could rosenstein and say fire mueller and rosenstein would say no and rosenstein would be fired and they would work their way down until they found someone willing to actually fire mueller.
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ala richard nixon saturday night massacre. according to this reporting, that didn't happen because right there in the white house, don mcgahn said no, i won't make the call and i will quit if you insist that i must. but then there is the personal stuff. because after saying i'll quit if you insist, according to this new reporting, don mcgahn basically called the president a chicken. look at that line. mcgahn told white house officials mr. trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. and he didn't. he told somebody else to fire mueller. the guy said no, i'm not doing it, and apparently he told other people at the white house, watch, don't worry, he's not going to do it himself. and you know what? the president we know knows how to use a phone. if he did want to fire the special counsel, there is no reason that he couldn't have just called the doj himself, right? at least i think. we can check that out.
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this is a remarkable report that the president gave the order for his white house counsel to fire the special counsel but the white house counsel said no and then there is this one other little nugget right at the end of the piece, quote, another option that mr. trump considered in discussions with advisors was dismissing the deputy attorney general rod rosenstein and elevating the number three official, rachel brand, to oversee mr. mueller. again, that is something the president would likely have had to do that very day or night if this order had been done. if he told him to fire mueller for no good reason. i don't know why they were considering pulling out rosenstein, the elevating brand in the first place but that is another option the president kicked around but didn't pull the trigger on. joining us is michael schmidt. washington correspondent at the "new york times" and the co-author of this very
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interesting new report. mr. schmidt, i wish you lots more sleep in your next life. >> thanks for having me. >> let me ask if i've correctly conveyed what is in your piece and if i've left out anything you think is important. >> yeah, i think that don mcgahn is a central figure in this, that the american public may not appreciate. don mcgahn was involved in the comey firing, don mcgahn was involved in lobbying attorney general sessions not to recuse himself from the russia investigation. he was asked by the president in june to fire mueller. he's a central player in all these and it's an irremarkable part of the story that gives us insight how the president tried to use lawyers in ways he was apparently sort of afraid to do himself. >> because mr. mcgahn's role in
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so many of these key moments, as you just described is being more and more exposed to the public. we're getting more and more information including a recent remarkable report that one of mr. mcgahn's deputies reportedly lied to the president about the president's ability to fire james comey specifically to try to maneuver the president away from that option. i have to wonder about the president's relationship with don mcgahn and the fact mcgahn is still there as white house counsel, it has to be a strain. it has to at least be a drama to have him working in the white house every day in this incredibly important job given the reporting about the conflicts with the president on these important matters. >> that's the thing. mcgahn's deputies basically misled the president to tell him that he didn't have the authority to fire the fbi director without cause because they were afraid of what the president would do. it seems like time and time again there are examples of the aids or lawyers trying to stop him from doing things they believe will hurt him or his presidency. you have to remember this was in june, just a month after comey
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had been fired and it was pretty clear that did no go over well. that was a huge problem for them. and once again, here you are in the month of june and the president saying let's get rid of mueller. i think there was concern about well, the republicans are not going to -- they lost the democrats but certainly, republicans on the hill were not going to take well to that. bob mueller is respected on both sides of the aisle and i think there was a big effort to try and stop it. >> michael, you described this as having happened in june of last year. i'm struck by the timing there because that's the month after robert mueller was appointed very early on. do you know anything about what might have provoked this order, if there was something specific that led him to take this dramatic action? >> well, there was a lot going on at the time because there were reports in the press about how mueller hired a bunch of democrats. and the prosecutors were folks that had given money to
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democrats. that was something that unnerved the president. what i find interesting is that the president's friend, chris ruddy, went on television in june and said that the president was considering firing mueller. at the time white house officials said that wasn't true, that ruddy was wrong. but it looks like he was truly speaking the truth there when he went out and said that. >> do we know if the -- you mentioned that at the time the president's legal team was led by his long-time personal lawyer in new york around the time that this all was happening. do we know if the president was sort of came up with this plan including the justifications for firing mueller on his own? is he receiving other competing
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legal advice apart from don mcgahn saying no, in terms of people who weren't advising him to do this? >> i don't know. i think many times the president believes he's his best spokesman and political advisor and lawyer. i wouldn't be surprised if the president was out there thinking this was a good idea himself. i don't think there were officials that thought this was the best way to proceed with the special counsel to get rid of him. i don't think they thought that would be a measure that would help the president and i have yet to find anyone in the white house or elsewhere that thought that that was a good idea. >> michael, one last question for you. i'm struck by the timing, excuse me, the wording in the second paragraph in your piece says this west wing confrontation marks the first time mr. trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel. does that -- are you deliberately implying there might be other times? >> no, it's just the first time. >> okay. >> as journalist in this story, especially when we learn about something for the first time, we like to note it and say, you know, this is the first time about this or whatever. this is the first time we know about that. if the president was willing to do that in june, was he willing to do it other times? i don't know. this was the first time for that
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and as we go along, we try to note whether this is the second or third or fourth or whatever but for this one, this was the first. >> i lied and said that was my last question. i have one other. i'm sorry. >> whatever you want. >> in terms of don mcgahn as the central figure in this story other than the president, there has been a lot of reporting recently as we discussed about mcgahn's role in the key moments in the scandal, particularly around the obstruction of justice issues and key firings, james comey and of robert mueller. is there any sense in which some of this news about don mcgahn might be driven about his concern by the legal liability.
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he's been interviewed by the special counsel and retained his private counsel in this matter. is don mcgahn worried? do we have reason to believe he's concerned that he may be a target rather than a witness of the mueller investigation? >> i've seen no indication that mcgahn himself is under investigation in this. what we have seen a lot of is that mcgahn is a central witness in and figure in all of this because he can provide insight into what president was thinking from a story perspective. i find mcgahn's position incredibly interesting because this is a skilled washington lawyer who had to take the whims of a president and try to keep them legal and try to carry them out and time and time again, we learn about different an in this case incidents where he was trying to take a square and put it in a round -- >> one of those. >> square hole or whatever. yeah. screwed that one up. that is pretty remarkable in this whole thing is how did mcgahn balance his interest and his client and what was ethical and what was legal. >> michael schmidt, incredible scoop tonight. thank you so much. congratulations on this scoop. >> thanks for having me. >> i want to just reset for a
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second. what the "times" is reporting tonight is that in june, the month after robert mueller was appointed special counsel, the president, maybe the president alone, we don't know if he received advice or encouragement but he came up with an argument, a three-part argument that robert mueller had personal conflicts that meant he could not be special counsel and continue to serve in the role and there was a dispute over fees at the trump national golf club when he was a member and fbi director in virginia years ago, that he had been associated with the law firm wilmer hail that once represented jared kushner and interviewed to possibly return as fbi director in the trump administration. none of those seem like terrible personal conflicts that would be seen by, you know, ethics folks at the justice department as a reason somebody couldn't serve as special counsel. those would be things that the justice department knew about
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robert mueller when they appointed him special counsel in the first place. nevertheless, the president on that basis, on the basis of those alleged conflicts of interest ordered his white house counsel to fire mueller. and according to this new reporting, the reason that didn't happen is his white house counsel threatened to quit if the president insisted that he do that and then the president backed off. this is remarkable reporting because we know robert mueller still in his job is investigating the president for obstruction of justice. obviously, had the president gone ahead with this, this would have seriously raised concerns, a whole new raft of concerns about potential obstruction of justice by this president. what does it mean that he tried to do it and issued the order and then got cold feet? joining us is barbara mcquaid. she was an attorney for the eastern district of michigan. thank you for being with us tonight. i appreciate you being here on
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short notice on a story you didn't know you'd be talking about. >> you bet, rachel. it's fun. >> on obstruction, i'm struck by don mcgahn's position here, right? don mcgahn all of a sudden is the subject of a lot of news stories with him having restrained the president with his worst or most unconstitutional impulses, that said, don mcgahn is also described as having been dispatched by the president to go lobby the attorney general, that he should ignore ethics advice that he got from the justice department and not recuse himself in the russia matter. don mcgahn is very much involved in all of these things. this one that's been reported tonight, would this be a particular legal concern in terms of the liability of the president or the liability of anybody else involved in giving this order in terms of firing mueller as obstruction of justice? >> well, i think again, it's one more piece in the puzzle that robert mueller is trying to put together as to whether president
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trump had a corrupt motive in trying to stop investigation into russia. and so why did he want robert mueller out of it? the theories that you mention, the bases, all sound quite minimal and not pretextural. what's the real reason for wanting to pull mueller out of it? if he's fired, it seems he would be replaced by someone else. so he does seem to think getting rid of the leader might get rid of the investigation. it kind of fits in that pattern of his behavior in the firing of comey. i think that it is one more piece perhaps in the puzzle to prove corrupt intent to establish obstruction of justice. >> we don't know if the president was advised by external counsel or anybody else in the white house when he was making, issuing this order about
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mueller. we don't know if anybody else helped him prepare this or if any lawyer told him that this was a good argument, a good way to get rid of mueller, something that would really stand up in legal terms and political terms. in terms of how this might play against the president, whether this does go to, as you said, another piece of puzzle, establishing intent, would it help him out if it turns out somebody told him this was a good idea and somebody advised him to do this? >> i suppose he could say that he was hearing from, you know, i won't speculate on who but other individuals in the white house because it wasn't his own idea. it's his own thoughts that matter. there is a jury instruction that goes something like because we can't read a person's mind for you to determine their intent, you should look at the totality of the circumstances. everything said, everything that was done. i suppose if president trump were to say this wasn't my idea, is just communicating something someone else suggested, he could distance himself.
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from this piece of the puzzle. >> let me ask you one last piece of this, in terms of the person -- personal drama here, what we've got in terms of this report is the president telling the white house counsel to make this call to the justice department, that they should dismiss robert mueller. if the president had wanted to make that call himself, could he do so? would he have to involve the white house counsel in order to fire mueller this way? >> no, not at all. i think he certainly could have picked up the phone and done it himself. i know under the regulation, it's the attorney general and this instance the deputy attorney general who is acting who has the power to fire him. i think president trump could fire him himself. it's interesting that he's seeking to use intermediaries. one wonders why he does that. maybe it's just a matter of not wanting to get his hands dirty.
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maybe it's a matter of throwing up a trial balloon and seeing what mcgahn thought of it. not clear. but the answer to your question is yes, he certainly could have done it himself. >> that last point is very important if it was a trial balloon and put up in june and don mcgahn shot it down, why is it that now in late january we are learning about the floating and shooting down of this trial balloon. just a remarkable story. bash mcquaid, former u.s. attorney for the eastern district of michigan. thank you for being with us. >> thanks, rachel. we're absorbing the breaking news, the president ordered the white house counsel to fire robert mueller. it didn't happen tonight, it happened last june, the month after robert mueller was hired as special counsel. the president appears to have come up, reportedly came up with a list of three reasons, three conflicts of interest that disqualified mueller from serving in that job. as barb mcquaid said, they don't
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seem particularly strong, they may even appear to be pretext e pretextural. this is just the excuse we'll use. the drama is his white house counsel that serves reportedly told the president no, i won't make that. i'll quit in protest. a remarkable story, remarkable threat in terms of firing the special counsel and a remarkable mystery as to why this is coming out now. we got a u.s. senator who is very much in the middle of the investigation particularly on the obstruction part of this who is live in studio with us next. stay with us. ♪ ♪
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covering the breaking news tonight first broken last hour, by the "new york times," the president ordered robert mueller fired last year in june but backed off when white house counsel, don mcgahn, threatened to quit rather than carry out the president's order. now again, this was broken last hour by "the new york times." "the washington post" has now confirmed their version of this story. their headline they just moved is trump moved to fire special counsel mueller in june bringing the white house's top lawyer to the brink of quitting. this is not, again, first reported by the times now being matched by "the post." president trump sought the firing of robert mueller last june shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into russian interference in the 2016 election. he backed off only after mcgahn threatened to resign.
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the showdown was confirmed by two people. the "times" reporting again was four people who were told of the matter. according to "the washington post," mcgahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to trump but was serious about his threat to leave. this incident could become part of mueller's examination whether trump has taken steps to try to stymie the investigation. joining us live is democratic member of the senate judiciary committee who has been aggressive on the obstruction of justice and freedom of this investigation to follow the facts. thank you for coming in. >> thank you, rachel. >> let me get your top line reaction to this news. this is not the president acting to fire robert mueller now in case people are tuning in and freaking out about that. these are reports this happened last year, shortly after he was appointed. >> these reports are absolutely stunning, deeply frightening because they show again that the president will stop at nothing to protect himself from this
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obstruction of justice investigation. and they are evidence, those conversations with mcgahn and apparently there are four sources. four people have some basis to believe that they are true are further evidence of obstruction of justice. there is a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the united states. >> you're saying that mindful effect, the fact that this order that the president reportedly made was not carried out. so he didn't -- he tried to fire robert mueller. he obviously didn't fire robert mueller. does that make a difference whether or not there this is an actionable obstruction case? >> if that were the only fact, the only piece of the mosaic in the proof, it might have less weight. remember, he fired jim comey one month before. so firing was very much on his mind as a means to rid himself of the so-called retro thing.
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he bragged to foreign minister lavrov and kislyak that he was so relieved that he had fired comey and thereby stopped the investigation. now it's the surrogates that are attacking the special counsel, the surrogates in congress, the defenders who are launching it. i saw it on the fbi and law enforcement. we have a constitutional crisis looming and that's the reason why we need to protect the special counsel with legislation that i've offered along with a number of republican colleagues and democrats to make sure that the special counsel is protected in this investigation. >> you described that as a constitutional crisis. clearly that would be a conflict with the president exerting his ability to, you know, change and direct his attorney general to change the rules of the justice department to abolish the concept of a special counsel.
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i mean, there's ways that a president legally could shut that down, to shut down the special counsel's investigation. why would that be a constitutional crisis and not just a fight? >> it would be a constitutional crisis because it would involve the president exceeding his authority under the constitution, violating statutes and potentially confronting congress, which would hold him accountable to obey the law. and also as we know from u.s. versus nixon, the case where the president's evidence was subpoenaed by the special counsel and he refused to provide it until ordered by the supreme court, that kind of confrontation may be in our future as well. >> do you think that these reports tonight, first from "the new york times" matched by "the washington post." do you think these will reinvigorate interest among your colleagues, including your republican colleagues, in
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potentially passing legislation to protect the special counsel? this is something that came forward as a bipartisan idea and then republican support for it withered quickly. is it possible something like this might give that new life? >> great question, it is the key question. my colleagues' interest somewhat receded as he became less bellicose. >> that's true. he went through a change on that. >> he was talking about firing the special counsel and not having tried to do so as michael schmidt observed, this is the first to report he took action. i think my republican colleagues will be more interested. they ought to be more interested, in fact, i'll put it bluntly. they have a constitutional responsibility to act now and there is enough here that really requires them to look in the mirror and say now is the time to do my duty to the united states of america and protect
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the rule of law. >> we have seen a change in the president's statements about the investigation, statements about robert mueller over time. since he brought on his current legal team, it seems like he's been advised to stop making aggressive statements about roberts mueller personally. he denounces the russia investigation written as a hoax and terrible thing but stopped talking about mueller in the partisan terms he used to talk about him before. republicans have gone through a transformation over the past year. more so in the house but senate who have started to talk about the fbi as being a troubled organization, an institution that can't be trusted to fairly carry out this kind of investigation. i don't know what changes that back. i don't know what caused that
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shift among republican colleagues. when i look at the list of alleged conflicts that the president would put forward when he made this order, i can imagine republicans in congress embracing this saying there was a fees dispute when he was a member of trump's golf club, let's impeach him. let's throw him out of office. it's hard to gauge where they are and where the limits are. >> the supposed conflicts of interest are crazy. absolutely ludicrous as a reason to fire the special counsel. they don't pass the smell test. second, i am hard put to believe that donald trump on his own sitting at his desk concocted or constructed this list of potential conflict. somebody is giving him in quote
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advice. and, third, you're right, that my colleagues in the congress may use this in very clever and cunning ways as a pretext for continuing their all-out assault on mueller, his team and the fbi. they have put law enforcement in their sights in a way that i think is utterly and totally shameful and disgraceful. think of the party that was most favorable to law enforcement and law and order and the war on crime now is attacking relentlessly and consistently the premiere law enforcement agency of the world not without fault but composed of some of the most scaled, dedicated professionals in fighting crime in the world. i think this onslaught, to answer your question, will continue very vigorously and
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relentlessly and we're in for a fight. >> you're a former prosecutor yourself. when you say that you doubt the president came up with this list of alleged conflicts of interest for robert mueller, that he must have had help in preparing this case that's been reported in the "new york times", this case supposed to under lay the order to fire mueller which he issued last june, if that case against mueller was cooked up and was about trying to shut down the investigation, therefore wasn't a legitimate action by the president, it was obstruction of justice. if somebody else helped him cook that up and construct that case, is it the -- should the judiciary committee, should mueller himself be looking into somebody else in that possible obstruction of justice. >> the answer is unequivocally yes to both questions. the judiciary committee should be looking into it because obstruction of justice and the threat to law enforcement is directly within our responsibility.
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and, secondly, remember this remarkable news report is not news to robert mueller. >> right. >> he knows about it. he has been talking to the very people who have talked to these reporters and no doubt he is investigating those individuals who may have assisted, aided and abetted in this potential obstruction of justice. >> senator blumenthal, thank you for being here and for being here in person as this news broke tonight. appreciate it. >> thank you. >> much more to come together. i'll talk with a former white house counsel, somebody that previously had don mcgahn's job although never faced an order like this before. that's coming right up. stay with us. sometimes we imagine things
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start winning today. we're pretty sure no one's everg asked howsaid microwaved. eggs, you deserve a breakfast made with respect. try the new bacon, egg, and cheese on brioche. panera. food as it should be. so we've got a blockbuster report from "the new york times" that says that last june, president trump gave the order to fire special counsel robert mueller about what stopped him was don mcgahn, the white house counsel, don mcgahn threatening to quit his job rather than carry out the president's order and then the president backed
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down and that's why mueller wasn't fired. makes don mcgahn like the picture of heroic self-sacrifice. right? you know, i don't know, i could -- before not that long ago, i couldn't have picked don mcgahn out of a lineup. i know nothing about him. this is not the first story in the past few weeks that paints don mcgahn as a super hero, a remarkably flattering light. yesterday nbc news had an interesting, rich scoop about the dramatic white house departure of national security officer mike flynn. in that piece, it was reported that as soon as don mcgahn found out that mike flynn had been interviewed by the fbi, he did the right thing and briefed the president, briefed chief strategists steve bannon and
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chief of staff reince priebus. it was reported that don mcgahn didn't know if flynn lied to the fbi. didn't know mike flynn had lied to the fbi until after mike flynn had been fired so therefore don mcgahn couldn't have told anybody else because he definitely didn't know about it. if you prefer a narrative, there was a report last month white house counsel don mcgahn was so concerned about mike flynn he researched federal law about lying to federal investigators and illegally negotiating with foreign governments and warned the white house about possible violations. don mcgahn was also a kind of hero doing his due diligence and if his boss decided not to act, that's not don mcgahn's fault. a lot of story telling going on.
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a lot of it can't all be true, right? itself contradictory but always spins don mcgahn in the best possible way, even if you have to get him doing two opposite things to tell two good story about him. now new reporting from "the new york times" matched in the washington post that don mcgahn threw himself in front of a moving train. i don't know what we're to make of the great but somewhat contradictory coverage of the counsel. we do know mcgahn is represented by a very, very, very good lawyer named william burke. there is controversy he represents reince priebus and steve bannon and that's a lot but that's something special counsel robert mueller himself has signed off on and said it isn't a conflict. if the special counsel is okay with the same lawyer representing don mcgahn and reince priebus and steve bannon, that maybe might suggest neither
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of those three is a target of mueller's inquiry. but whatever's going on in terms of don mcgahn's continued employment as white house counsel and his public profile, which is getting very much fleshed out, we really don't know what's driving it. it is a theme to keep an eye on as he emerges as the central figure in dramatic story telling how this president approached in some cases tried to stop the investigation that haunts his presidency. joining us now is former white house counsel to president obama, bob bower. mr. bower, thank you for joining us on short notice tonight. i really appreciate it. >> sure, of course. >> we're told tonight in the "new york times" that as white house counsel, the president directed mr. mcgahn to fire robert mueller, to call the justice department and see to it that robert mueller was dismissed. does that seem structurally
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right how that would have to work in a white house context? >> i assume it would work in a number of different ways. his thought was that he would communicate with the department of justice by the white house counsel and relay his direction that way and that certainly is one plausible avenue for him to express that order. >> does it seem plausible that in that circumstance, the white house counsel would be in position to say over my dead body, no sir, i won't accept that. i won't do it. i know the white house counsel isn't the president's personal lawyer. is that kind of conflict feasible to you? >> yes, it would be. again, based on the facts from "the times" he had two objections, he didn't think were particularly compelling and certainly reported i would have to agree with that judgment and
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secondly, thought that whatever the president thought about the merits of the order, he would make matters significantly worse for himself by firing or having mueller fired. so on both accounts, when it seems the counsel tried to talk him out of it and a last-ditch matter, he would say i can't carry that order out. >> the president giving this order, even though it reportedly was not -- evidently was not carried out, but if this reporting is true, that the president directed the white house counsel to do this and efforts were stymied, does he have obstruction of justice or form of potential legal liability in given the order even though it wasn't carried out? >> i don't know relative to other factors how strongly it weighs into obstruction. i'd have to say one thing the reason the president gave. the first one is his belief
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mueller may be prejudice against him because he resigned from a country club after an increase in fees. that has a strongly pretextural feel to it. one can't imagine that's one reason why the president believes mueller couldn't be trusted. it doesn't color the president in a favorable light which means maybe on the more central evidence that the special counsel may be considering obstruction, i think the president is considering himself to do no favor and losing the benefit of the doubt in the course of the investigative inquiry. that's one way this could play you ever favorably for the president and introduces awkwardness between the president and mr. mueller over the terms of a purported interview. >> what you just said about the thinness of allegations that were apparently going to be used
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to justify the firing of mr. mueller, it's the second time tonight we've heard a distinguished legal mind describe that has having a pretextural feel. what's wrong with opening up a plainly thin, transparent, untrue justification for doing something. if the president has it within his power to fire anybody he wants to, why does it matter if he would offer a plainly false reason for doing so? if what he asserts is pretextural, it puts more focus on what his intent might have been. it reminds me of jim comey.
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i don't think it did much of him communicating that he had any sort of genuinely law enforcement bent. >> we continue to absorb this information. "new york times" breaking it first. "washington post" has followed it up. the "post" is now confirming that trump attempted to fire special counsel robert mueller last june, that don mcgahn, the white house counsel, threatened to quit in order to stop the order from being enacted. more to come tonight. stay with us. coming at you with my brand-new vlog. just making some ice in my freezer here.
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so check back for that follow-up vid. this is my cashew guy bruno. holler at 'em, brun. kicking it live and direct here at the fountain. should i go habanero or maui onion? should i buy a chinchilla? comment below. did i mention i save people $620 for switching? chinchilla update -- got that chinchilla after all. say what up, rocco. ♪
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so the "times" reports tonight that the president tried to fire robert mueller last year on the basis of reported personality conflicts of interest. if you don't buy the idea that the president thought his presidency was at risk over golf fees at his country club, there were things going on in the news that might conceivably have factored into the president's decision to fire robert mueller at the time. the order to fire mueller came in june, i don't know what
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sparked it, but in june it was reported that the special counsel had expanded the probe to look at paul manafort. on june th -- 7th, comey released a letter where the president demanded comey's loyalty. we learned that he was investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice. the following day the post reported that the special counsel was investigating the finances and business dealings of the president's son-in-law, jared kushner, and other trump associates. so i don't know what might have sparked all of this. on june 16th cnn reported that mueller had built up his team, included 13 lawyers, top investigators, leading experts, seasoned attorneys who represented major american companies, attorneys who have
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worked on cases ranging from water to enron fraud scandal. that might send a shiver down your spine. that was all breaking around the time that president trump, according to the "new york times" tonight, tried to have the fbi special counsel fired and, in fact, ordered that he be fired. but no, apparently the explanation for why he was being fired was they had an argument over golf fees. mr. beschloss, thank you for joining us. much appreciated. >> my pleasure, rachel. those must have been pretty high golf fees to get something like that. >> and to get robert mueller to carry a year's long grudge to destroy the presidency over it. >> deeply convincing. >> what does this say to you? this story has a lot of historical -- >> donald trump is ripping a page out of the nixon play book. nixon made some of the same arguments, that the watergate special prosecutor had mcgovern
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and kennedy democrats, nimixon haters on his staff. he complained at the swearing in were of all people ethel and ted kennedy a kennedy. what he was afraid of what he was about to get the white house tapes which show that richard nixon was guilty of impeachable offenses. so what this should tell us tonight about what happened last june is donald trump has to be interested in finding some way of firing robert mueller. we've got to be very much on alert about that tonight. >> do we know -- obviously, part of the analogy with nixon here is complicated by the fact that his white house counsel, john dean, went to jail. >> right. >> in watergate. i'm trying to think about the saturday night massacre what might have happened if the dominos started at the white white house rather than the justice department. >> it was in dramatic context because nixon had a chief of
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staff, alexander haig, who went to elliott richardson, the attorney general, and said you have to fire archibald cox, this is an order from your commander in chief. and he said i'm sorry we have different views of the public interest. he resigned rather than fire archibald cox. we haven't yet seen that kind of profile and courage. although as you were saying, rachel, some of what you were saying about don mcgahn looks good. >> if he's staking himself against don hague, i'd want to be the don mcgahn character. >> things we never expected to see. and hope not to. >> right. hope we wake up and it's not happening. micha micha micha michael beschloss joining us at the very last minute here. i enjoy you being here on short notice. thank you for being here. >> be well. >> that does it for us tonight. i had a whole other show.
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i will save it for you. maybe. see you again tomorrow. now it's time for "last word with lawrence o'donnell." >> come on over and do your whole other show. just hand it to me. i'll just read it. rachel, among the things i never expected to hear from you is i would want to be the don mcgahn it's trying to imagine the relationship between don mcgahn and the president right now as all of these news stories are coming out showing us that don mcgahn is the man saving us from the abyss. it's hard to imagine what it's like inside the white house. >> and more confirmation of michael wolff's book, through

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